I sense I’m on the verge of becoming extremely unlikable. Reading “Radical Homemakers” by Shannon Hayes has validated my unconventional thinking and empowered me to start speaking up. But that’s not all. Hayes also has me taking my long-held beliefs to a new level, with a conviction I’ve lacked up until now. And people might not like what I have to say…or how I choose to live.
“Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture” isn’t what you think, despite the cover image of a stern-looking woman brandishing a rolling pin in a threatening manner. It’s not a book about militant stay-at-home moms or extreme homemakers who code and sort individual puzzle pieces into Ziploc bags. No, these men and women are radical because they’re saying “screw you” to the conventional way of American living, with all the emphasis on working one’s behind off to make money to buy all kinds of things we don’t need rather than be focused on a wholesome home life.
Hayes interviewed 20 families and individuals that fit her definition of radical homemakers and summarized the commonalities between them in her book. More importantly, in my opinion, the author explains how we got here, to a place where homemaking can even be considered radical in the first place.
For me, the “how we got here” part of the book is so important because I grew up in the “super mom” era, when we poor young women were bombarded with messages about how we could have it all. Do you remember the TV commercial for Enjoli, with a voice singing, “I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in the pan. And never let you forget you’re a man. Cuz I’m a woman…”?
That commercial aired countless times as I was coming of age. And I bought into the whole lie, that I could have a fabulous career, be a great mom and homemaker, and still be pretty and sexy. Worst of all, it taught me that was what I was supposed to do and want, to be a working, career-first mom! Thing is, you can’t be a “24-hour woman” without running yourself right into the ground. Nowhere did that commercial show the utter exhaustion that comes from trying to do and be all. None of the media messages did. They only pushed the super woman/super mom myth. And not only did I fall for the lie, my entire generation did, big time.
As soon as my first child was born, I recognized it for the lie it was, and I fought against it by making a living outside of the mainstream. But I was in the minority. I’ve always been in the minority, and not only as a working mom. I’ve raised my own food, cooked from scratch, breastfed my babies, bought used items, curtailed consumerism, foregone TV, and been self-employed with all the risks that entails. In many ways, I guess, I’ve been a closet radical homemaker—but not a complete one. I’m ready to be completely radical now, though, after reading this book!
The biggest gift Hayes delivers with this book is not a roadmap to homemaking heaven. Rather it’s the blatant and brash exposure of the fallacy of our modern way of living.
Hayes is an academic with a PhD. As such, she provides the historical context and background, tracing the roots of our modern day crazy culture back to the Industrial Revolution, and laying out the reasons behind and results of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.”
The history is helpful, and can perhaps help us look at and question how we live today when compared to the lives of the radical homemakers.
A radical homemaker is someone who has said “no” to the two-income trap; someone who recognizes real wealth is achieved in non-monetary ways; someone who rebels against the consumer culture of spend/spend/spend and instead chooses a simple life, a life focused on family and community rather than jobs, income, prestige…and debt.
Hayes points out the home used to be the center of production. Now it is the center of consumption. When we decided jobs came first, that being in the workforce was far more worthwhile and meaningful than being in the home, we had to buy many of the goods and services we used to create and provide for ourselves. At first we had to work to pay for the necessities and services we needed once we put jobs before home. Then we bought into the materialistic lie and suddenly we’re not only working so we can afford the processed and frozen foods for the dinners we don’t have time to cook. Now we are working to pay for all the luxuries and extras too, from the big home to the big car to the big screen TV.
Hayes is not anti-job. People often have to work or they work in a job they’re passionate about like nursing. And we will always need people to work as firefighters, librarians and the like. What she speaks out against is the work-first mentality and our culture of busy-ness. Hayes confronts those of us who say we have to work to ask, really? Do you really need the big house, the big car, the big screen TV? Enough to let someone else raise your kids? Enough to allow factory-made, processed, chemical-laden food to be your family’s mainstay at mealtimes? In my own experience, I would say the real answer is no. I’ve met countless people who said they had to work when really they had to work to maintain a certain lifestyle—not a life. Or they’d bought into the corrupt health insurance system, believing they had to have a certain job in order to keep certain benefits…but that’s such a huge topic, I can’t tackle it here.
The people interviewed by Hayes are radical because they turned their backs on the way of thinking of the work-first, consumer culture. As a result, they eat better, they have stronger relationships, they and their kids are happier and healthier, they live debt-free, they are fulfilled…and their environmental impact is considerably less.
If you’ve read to this point, even if the words made you uncomfortable, thank you for being open-minded. Books like this are critically important because we as a society are not on a good path, nor a sustainable one. It’s time to stop blindly following along with the mainstream and time to think for ourselves again, to put the home first. That’s the only way to bring about change, by starting at home.
I bought the 21 acres and decrepit old farmhouse before reading “Radical Homemakers” because I was already thinking that way, that I wanted to be in a place where I could raise my own food, stay away from the culture of consumerism, and significantly lower my costs. Even though the project is massive and purse strings are tight as we renovate the house, Hayes gives me confidence that I too can do this and live as a radical homemaker.
Now I’ve got to run. I’ve got bread to bake, dishes to wash and a home to make.